Meals and Wheels: Cycling North Devon

Perhaps the best measure of a successful cycling trip is not how far you cycled, but how much weight you gained. By this account, my recent 3-day cycle across North and Mid Devon was a delightful success indeed.

The cycling was very nice – flat trails through dense forest and coastal estuaries giving way to rolling green hills and lovely rural vistas – but it was the Yarde Orchard Bunkhouse and Cafe which made this trip memorable. Situated right on the Tarka Trail (National Cycling Route 3), the orchard is home to 3 yurts, an energy-efficient and low-impact bunkhouse, and a delightful cafe. Fresh, local, seasonal ingredients made the simple, hearty meals (home-made pizza, fresh samosas, fennel risotto) feel as well as taste good, especially after a long day of cycling/drinking.

What truly makes the Yarde Orchard special though, are the folks running it. David and Charlie were among the most welcoming and sincere hosts I’ve ever had, treating us like old friends from the moment I straggled in from the woods at 10:30 pm on Friday night after a 20-mile ride through utter darkness. These are folks who get genuine satisfaction from treating their guests well and it showed in everything they did, from fixing special vegetarian dishes to letting my companions open the cafe themselves to catch an early-morning rugby match. Their fine selection of local ales and ciders only made the decision to stay there all weekend that much easier (we had originally planned to camp on top of Exmoor one night – but no beer and no warm food does not a happy cyclist make).

Though it was difficult to leave the cafe after a massive and delicious breakfast each morning, we did manage to do some cycling in the end. As it turns out, cycling is a great way to get from pub to pub. Passing through the towns of Barnstaple and Braunton on Devon’s north coast, we enjoyed a relatively easy – though wet – day on Saturday. Sunday was more varied, both topographically and visually, as we took to the back roads between East Yarde and Tiverton in Mid Devon. A few serious hills helped burn off Charlie’s culinary doings and the ensuing downhills were spectacularly breathtaking. Riding along a rural ridgeline gave us sweeping views over the surrounding English countryside, as roving bands of rain swept across the fertile green landscape.

We finished our adventure at the train station in Tiverton Parkway a bit damp and winded after a final 8-mile dash, arriving with 9 minutes before the train home for half our pack. Phew…just enough time to eat the last of our leftovers from the Yarde Orchard Cafe.

Climate Ride: Affecting change from the top down and the bottom up

This post was first published at www.mnn.com on 24.05.11
 
As exciting as the first five days of this year’s Brita Climate Ride were, it may have been day six that was the most exciting and new for many Climate Riders (including yours truly, Mr. Happy). After five days on a bike, pedaling through four states and the District of Columbia, we shed our spandex for more socially acceptable attire on day six to attempt a different kind of climate advocacy — direct, top-down political action.
 
As part of Climate Ride, members of 350.org arranged meetings with our respective congressional representatives on day 6 to advocate for three specific and direct actions related to our 300-mile cycle:
  1. Defend the Clean Air Act from attempts to gut or weaken its regulatory power
  2. End government subsidies for big oil companies currently enjoying record profits
  3. Support bike infrastructure as part of the larger effort to fight climate change and transition the U.S. to a more livable post-carbon future.
Climate Ride was much more than a five- or six-day experience. As an awareness- and fund-raising effort, it spanned several months leading up to the actual ride. And with every one of the 120 or so riders required to raise a minimum of $2,400, we collectively reached hundreds, if not thousands, of people with our message about positive and innovative solutions to climate change.
 
This is what made day six — our direct political action day — that much more powerful and meaningful. Each one of us represented not one, but hundreds of people concerned about climate change and the health of our communities.
 
As a resident of purple state Pennsylvania, I got to meet with an ideologically diverse bunch on Congressmen: a staunch Republican (and climate change skeptic) in Senator Patrick Toomey, a somewhat conservative Democrat in Senator Bob Casey and a moderately liberal Democrat in House Representative Mike Doyle. Thanks to what I learned from the Climate Ride Expert Speaker Series and some brief training provided by 350.org riders, I was confident in delivering a powerful and coherent message, even to a conservative not expected to support these initiatives.
 
What I found was that riding 300 miles on a bike can indeed be a powerful symbol that gets attention, even from our elected officials. And bicycles, when presented as part of a holistic vision of a healthier, cleaner and more economically vibrant society, can serve as common ground in an often divisive political environment.
 
 
That’s not to say that bike infrastructure has not become a politicized issue (what isn’t these days?). But I found all representatives (or the legislative aides I actually met with) to be far more amenable to this issue in particular. Climate change still remains too intangible and politically-charged for some people, despite near unanimous and increasingly dire concern from the international scientific community.
 
But while it’s harder for some to acknowledge or perceive the personal effects of climate change, nearly everyone has had a personal connection with a bicycle.
 
As gas prices continue to rise, our aging energy infrastructure becomes increasingly untenable and extreme weather events become more frequent close to home, things will undoubtedly change in one way or another. Increased and improved bicycle infrastructure represents one of the most systemic and politically feasible ways of bringing about change gracefully — from the top down and the grassroots up.
 
Just as ecosystems function from both directions, social change agents much embrace both approaches as well. Climate Ride is one of the most tangible and exciting ways of doing this that I know of.
 
To view photos and read day-by-day recaps of the 2011 Brita Climate Ride, visit www.climateridelive.org.